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Thursday, March 22, 2012

Sutton leads the baseball life

Jeff Dahn        
Photo: Perfect Game
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Forgive Arizona Diamondbacks’ television sportscaster Daron Sutton if he feels like he’s been working at his career – a career he absolutely loves – for as long as he can remember.

“I kind of feel like my profession started when I was born because I had the unique family upbringing of being involved in Major League Baseball with my father, Don Sutton, who played three years in the big leagues before I was born … and his career was so long he played until I was a freshman in college,” Sutton told Perfect Game on a recent sun-kissed morning in the Valley of the Sun.

“Even though I wasn’t getting paid, I kind of felt like I was doing on-the-job training learning about the game, being around the game, soaking up how to handle yourself in a clubhouse and understanding how difficult this game truly is.”

Sutton was speaking from the beautiful, two-year-old, $100 million Salt River Fields at Talking Stick complex the Diamondbacks and the Colorado Rockies call home for the duration of their annual spring training Cactus League seasons. Sutton, 42, is beginning his 13th season broadcasting Major League baseball and has recently assumed added responsibilities as a spokesman for Perfect Game.

His story is at once intriguing and enviable, that of a young man who always knew he wanted to be involved in Major League Baseball, even if he realized in college that he didn’t possess the skills to pursue a professional playing career of his own.

Sutton, a right-handed pitcher like his father, played collegiately for four seasons, first at UC-Irvine before transferring to and graduating from Auburn University-Montgomery (Ala.) with a communications degree in 1992. He also spent a couple of seasons in the minor leagues in the then-California Angels organization.

“Because of my (upbringing), I looked around and I knew what a major-leaguer looked liked and I wasn’t that guy,” Sutton said with a knowing smile.

He got into broadcasting at the minor league level and got his first big-league job with the Angels in 2000 on the radio side of their broadcasts. He worked two years with the Angels on radio, five years with the Milwaukee Brewers on the television side and is beginning his sixth season as the D’backs’ television play-by-play man for Arizona’s local broadcast affiliate.

Sutton did, in fact, grow up in Major League clubhouses and dugouts. His father Don, who was voted into the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame in 1998, had one of the more storied pitching careers in big league history.

Don Sutton pitched 23 years in the majors, the first 15 and the 23rd with the Los Angeles Dodgers. He spent three seasons with the Angels, three with the Brewers, two with the Houston Astros and one with the Oakland A’s before pitching the final game of his career with the Dodgers on Aug. 9, 1988. He had made his big-league debut with the same club on April 14, 1966.

During that durable 23-year career, Don Sutton won 324 games with a career ERA of 3.26 – he won 233 games with a 3.09 ERA during his Dodgers career – and was a four-time All-Star. He finished third in the National League Cy Young Award voting in 1976 after finishing 21-10 with a 3.06 ERA.

“I was lucky,” Daron Sutton said. “My dad and I are very different personalities and to this day very, very different people. But there’s one thing that I will always be grateful to him for and it’s simple and something a lot of dads do: he took me to work with him. He let me be a part of his work and as long as I stayed out of trouble at home and as long as I respected the area and the adults that were there working, I was welcome to come most every time.”

Sutton’s memories are priceless. He was on the field and in the dugout as a teenage clubhouse worker when his father won his 300th game on June 18, 1986, a complete game three-hitter against the Texas Rangers. He remembers being on the field as a batboy when Phil Niekro was tossed from a ballgame for scuffing the ball, and being front-and-center during a bench-clearing brawl between the Brewers and the A’s when his father was pitching in Milwaukee.

“I’ve seen some amazing things,” Sutton said. “I saw Roger Clemens pitch from the on-deck circle because I was a batboy (and) I remember baseball in Montreal, which a lot of younger people aren’t even aware of – I was very lucky (Don) took me to work.”

Sutton first got involved with Perfect Game in 2008 when, through his work at FOX Sports Net, he was asked to work on the television broadcast for the PG/Aflac All-American Classic, held that year at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles.

“I was interested and intrigued, and I was excited,” he said of the invitation to work on the Classic broadcast. “I didn’t know anything about it, to be honest; I knew about the Aflac duck but I really didn’t know about showcases. Now as a parent of a child who plays sports, you understand showcases and tournaments – even if it’s girls’ soccer – because it’s so prevalent in youth sports these days.

“Once I got out there (at the 2008 Classic), once I got to see the parents, see the kids, see the joy that they had playing in this game, I was hooked and I hoped they’d ask me back to do it again, and they since have,” he continued. “My relationship has evolved from a relationship with the television network to a relationship with Perfect Game.”

He moved into a role as the emcee at the Classic’s awards banquet and is now serving as an official spokesman for Perfect Game. He has spent this week in the Valley recording videos for PG and, speaking with PG alumni who are now in the big leagues, or at least trying to stay on a big-league roster.

Sutton is a big PG fan and said he wouldn’t have agreed to become a spokesman for the company if he wasn’t 100 percent convinced of its integrity.

“The way they handle things, I really enjoy seeing it, I really enjoy the honesty that they share with the athletes; it’s not just a money-grab, it’s not come-one, come-all where we’re here to pump you up and then kick you to the curb,” he said. “There seems to be an on-going relationship (with the prospect).

“I’m more than fine with the way they do things and I think for me I’m excited to learn more so that on an occasional night-to-night basis when I’m talking to baseball fans, I can kind of educate people about what this is all about.”

In Sutton’s mind – the same mind that absorbed all the lessons his Hall of Fame father bestowed upon him and that has made him one of MLB’s most respected broadcasters – the possibilities are endless. And he wants to make sure he stays involved.

“For now it’s going to live on the internet, but I think all of us have visions of a monthly television show someday. I really think there is enough content there,” he said of his work with PG. “There’s a passion for youth sports tying into football’s countdown to signing day, there’s a passion for ‘Where did they come from and can we track them?’ and there’s a lot of interested families that want to know what this all about.”

Sutton is more than willing to explain.
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